Monthly Archives: January 2012

“Life comes first.”*

 I was listening this morning to a recording of Andy Storey speak on the RTE show The Late Debate, on the matter of the new Not Our Debt campaign. It is well worth your time listening, since he lays out very clearly precisely why the debts of Anglo-Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide Building Society should not be paid by people living in Ireland, because they are not their responsibility. 

 

Now, this shouldn’t need to be explained to anybody, but the fact is that a lot of people believe that the debts have to be paid because the authorities say they have to be paid and because of the potential consequences of not paying, which will somehow be worse than decades of high unemployment, social implosion, economic depression and the dismantling of each and every element of what passes for a welfare state in the Republic of Ireland. 

 

The position of the government and Irish power elites -in moments of candour, as opposed to the 99.99% of the time when they are propagandising about how every single cut, every single withdrawal of a vital service, every unemployed person demonised, every cancer that goes untreated is a step in the onward march of Progress- could be paraphrased something like this: “Yes we know that the consequences of paying the debts entail, a Hobbesian war of all against all for growing numbers of the population, and a privileged elite holding a giant whip, but what’s the alternative?”

 

(A few drops of fear always come in handy when consolidating democracies)

There are lots of scare tactics involved, figurative fingers drawn across the throat over what the ECB will do, what ‘our paymasters’ will do, if the people in Ireland decide they are not going to pay. I referred to this phenomenon in a recent post, Ministries of Fear, and you can note its presence on the recording. 

A lot of this has to do with politicians shoring up their own position of power and influence, and, in the case of media professionals, people who largely identify with power seeking to preserve privileged access to information. 

In wider society, people in a position of affluence, whose sense of themselves has been formed through identification with a patriarchal and paternalistic State which rewarded the obedient children in the class while locking up the bad ones in industrial schools, psychiatric institutions and slave labour laundries, tend to join the chorus of foreboding.

The atmosphere is rendered heavy with moralistic guilt-tripping, socialising the debt by socialising the guilt. To expect social rights and entitlements that ought to come with modern democracy, in this atmosphere, is sinful. I referred to this phenomenon in the previous post, Democracy as Guilt, and you can notice its presence on the recording.

 

Elsewhere, it was hard to suppress the urge to projectile vomit on learning of Fine Gael junior minister and asshole Brian Hayes’s pronouncements at the weekend, when he said that ‘80% of the crisis we face is all of our own making’. It is not that Hayes passionately believes in what he is saying, however much the impassioned/constipated expression on his face might lead you to think he does.

 

Rather, I propose that he –and other people from his milieu who have made similar pronouncements- make statements such as these, in present times, as a way of delaying an encounter with political conflict, of postponing what likely appears to them as inevitable. That is: that a particular set of ideas about the national interest, or, if you like, the common good, which have dominated political life and a decisive number of people’s conception of politics in the Republic of Ireland for decades, and provided the basis for consent to be governed, however grudging that consent might prove at times, are fast approaching their sell-by date. I wrote about this sort of thing in a post a few months back, titled The Social Subcontractors.

In such an atmosphere, laying out clearly to the public why they should not be paid is an important step in building a resistance to the payment of the debts. So too, of course, is taking to the streets. Surprisingly, this point was conceded by a couple of contributors on the programme. So what -if anything- is stopping people?

Here is an excerpt from the text in circulation calling for three days of continuous resistance, starting this Monday.

It is time to ask of ourselves: ‘If not now, when?’ If we fail to resist now, we risk accelerating a downward spiral of implosion and hopelessness already taking hold in our communities and families. Resistance, and a celebration of resistance, will raise people’s spirits. We are confident that if we step forward we will be supported by the many.

We are the people we have been waiting for.


Hard to disagree with that.

It’s important to remember, as Andy Storey points out on the recording, that this has been done elsewhere. One of the most notable locations, also mentioned by him, is Ecuador. There is a very good article on Ecuador in today’s Guardian by Jayati Ghosh, titled ‘Could Ecuador be the most radical and exciting place on Earth?

Here is a translation of a piece by Emir Sader, a Brazilian sociologist and executive secretary of the Latin American Council of Social Sciences. It was originally published on ALAI, a Latin American news site which has a substantial English language archive.

 

Fifth Anniversary of the Citizen Revolution

During the boom of neoliberal euphoria, some rulers dollarized their economies, in the midst of financial crises, believing that with the stamp of the greenbacks all the bounty that the Empire promises would come. El Salvador and Ecuador were victims of this trick. (The other country that uses the dollar is Panama, a fake country, created by the inducement of the United States so that the northern region of Colombia would break off and lend itself to the construction of the Panama Canal, with a currency also imposed by the United States.

El Salvador and Ecuador were immediately affected by an even greater breakdown in their economies and by enormous waves of immigration to the United States and Europe. The countries refused to carry out monetary policy –their Central Bank became the Federal Reserve of the United States, without any benefits, only negative effects.

Rafael Correa

Years later, the two countries are presided over by progressive governments – Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Mauricio Funes in El Salvador –also through the dramatic consequences of these neoliberal policies.

Ecuador this year commemorates 5 years of the government of Rafael Correa. After a series of presidents who, during a decade, were not even able to finish their mandates, on account of repudiation by the people, Correa has achieved an institutional stability and legitimacy through popular support, which no other president had achieved in the history of Ecuador.

Lucio Gutiérrez

Since 2000 –in a similar way to Bolivia- successive neoliberal governments were brought down through popular anger. The last of these, that of Lucio Gutiérrez, a soldier who had backed one of the previous popular uprisings, had even participated in the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre. He was backed by the left and the combined social movements, he won, but even before taking power he went to the United States and reneged on all that he had promised, by signing numerous accords with Bush.

The left immediately withdrew support for him and began to oppose him strongly. The indigenous movement split, officially it withdrew, but some of the indigenous ministers remained in government. The opposition this time was not led by the indigenous movements, but by popular urban citizen movements, which ended up toppling Lucio Gutierrez. In this movement stood out Rafael Correa, who was Minister of Finance for four months during the government of Alfredo Palacio, who followed Gutierrez.

Five years ago Correa was elected and he declared that Ecuador “was emerging from the darkness of neoliberalism” and that it was moving “from an era of change to a change of era”. And Ecuador joined the group of progressive governments of Latin America, which included the country joining the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA).

A Constituent Assembly was called, in a similar way to Bolivia, and it moved towards the construction of a new State: republican, multi-ethnic, multicultural, of the citizens. The process of transformations led by Correa became known as Citizen Revolution and the organisation of a party began, Movimiento País (literally, the Country Movement).

This process of transformations, like that of all progressive governments in Latin America, privileges social policies and not those of fiscal adjustment, it privileges processes of regional integration and alliances among the South of the world, and a strong State, the promoter of economic growth and guarantor of social rights, and not the minimal State, which rejects these in favour of the market. In addition to this, the government began making basic investment again –in roads, energy, ports, infrastructure in general- which brought dynamism to the Ecuadorean economy. In 2011 the economy, despite negative external pressures –reduction in foreign credit, variations in oil prices, drastic reduction in the sending of immigrant remittances to families- the economy grew by 8%, one of the highest figures, if not the highest, in the whole of Latin America.

The government maintains a mechanism for popular consultation, which submits to popular verdict matters such as the calling of the Constituent Assembly, which refounded the State, the approval of a new Constitution, as well as central policy directions, such as judicial reform, matters of public safety, among other things.

It is certain that Rafael Correa will be re-elected president next year, the only outstanding matter being the level of parliamentary majority he will receive. The opposition comprises the traditional right and sectors of the ultra left, backed by groups in the indigenous movement.

Ecuador changed as never before in the 5 years marked now by the government of Rafael Correa and Movimiento País, through its project of Citizen Revolution.

 

 

* “Life comes first” – from a quote by Rafael Correa – “Lo primero es la vida, después la deuda.” Life comes first, and debt after.

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Democracy as Guilt


From Evernote:

Democracy as Guilt

I posted a piece a few months back, a translation that demonstrated that a very high percentage of saints came from the upper classes of the society in which they lived. Thus a moralism fostered with the aid of the Church endures, and it extends beyond the direct contemporary influence of the Church hierarchy, which of course is still considerable. As Luis García Montero shows below with regard to Spain, quasi-religious moralism is a powerful feature of the present austerity regime. And it exists to make us feel guilty about democracy. We all partied, said former Irish Finance Minister Brian Lenihan days after formalising the First Irish Troika Bailout. 

What is often forgotten is that Lenihan was not pointing an accusatory finger at the population for squandering its security by taking out loans for 30 foot gold-plated statues of badgers to go with the decking. In fact, he was referring to the other main political parties, who had sought election amid promises for more teachers and nurses. The hedonism to be denounced at the dawning of Ireland’s post-sovereign era the belief that the Irish people should entertain crazy dreams about public services at a standard somewhere near that of other -is ‘other’ really the right word here?- Western European democracies, that they should have access to the things that in other places are considered a normal component of democratic life. 

And as the austerity regime tightens, in Ireland as in Spain, the collective memory of accusations of sinfulness will be called forth by self-important grim-faced turds like Brian Hayes escorting to all sorts of cod-theological justifications, including the exaltation of charitable giving, as a means of making you forget the notion -if it ever crossed your mind in the first place, and let’s face it, for many people in Ireland it certainly has not- that democracy has anything to do with decent public services, free education, free healthcare, free public transport or any of that sinful, sinful behaviour that John Charles McQuaid fought so valiantly to keep out of Ireland.

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Democracy as guilt

The scissors of the moralist have been sharpened. Historically their work has always consisted of cutting out ideas, joys and sins of other people. Now they prove effective in cutting back social rights and public spending. Any slasher needs to confuse himself, if possible, with the role of moralist. They attempt to cut to the chase, be this in an affront to decency or a civic right.

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Of all the roles that the economic crisis is handing out amid the farce of Spanish politics, one of the most harmful for democracy is that of the moralists who justify the dismantling of public services as something necessary in order to put an end to waste. Instead of explaining the deep roots of the slide -the deficient structure of the European State and the strategies of speculative economics, they prefer the comforts of their atavistic sense of penance: you people must suffer now, because for years you have lived in sin and beyond your means. There are moralists who really believe it, on account of their Christian education, forged between the excesses of Mardi Gras and Lenten fasting. Other moralists are simply political strategists who sell the application of their neoliberal greed as if it meant ways of creating jobs, combatting corruption and ending waste.

The generation of this feeling of guilt has easily permeated Spain. It is not complicated to understand. Besides the hypocrisy that the political parties have maintained in light of the corruption of various of their public figures and their entourages, it is also the case that in our society’s collective memory, poverty still looms close. One does not have to be a venerable old-timer to remember scenes of misery. Spanish people around the age of fifty in their childhood and adolescence knew a humiliated country. One only has to browse the black and white or the first garish colour of collective pictures.

An image speaks to us of Sunday suits that came out on a Tuesday or a Wednesday from the wardrobes of towns to get on to a bus and travel for hours down impassable roads towards the capital. There awaited them a doctor’s surgery or the interminable queue in front of a poorly attended hatch, or the gloom of a police station, or the charity of an acquaintance with money or the abandonment of a society without rights.

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Many other images speak to us, for example, of children who had not gone to school, of young people working in a house or a business for a meal and a tip, and of women with black scarves sitting on a chair, with no teeth, almost gone from life at 60 years of age. There are also images that recall the sacrifices of parents who gave up their little pleasures so that the oldest child, who had been unable to get a grant, might study at university. Images of many mouths agape when the tourists began to come, the summers of Swedish women, and when the television showed us how they lived in France or Germany. The mistreated skin of an Andalusian peasant belongs, along with dirty trains, the handkerchief of the emigrant or the swimming trunks inherited from military service, to the misery that I saw in my childhood.

Then democracy arrived. Since we lived in Europe, democracy did not just mean voting every four years. Democracy also came with local hospitals, decent roads, modern trains, attended hatches, education grants for all, adult education, travel around Spain and the world, respectful police officers, faced not cut up by the sun, decent labour contracts and uneasiness about economic and gender inequality. It never got to the European average, but it advanced a lot.

All the improvements that we came to know under democracy are now turned into waste. And the people born amid misery assume the feeling of guilt, confess their propensity to extravagance and accept the sacrifice for having thought they had the right to public services and dignity in work. The moralists of the crisis thus cut back with their scissors the dimension of the words ‘politics’ and ‘democracy’. Their meaning contains the vote, corruption, sectarianism and lies, but excluded is the possibility of dignity for the life of the citizens.

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The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory


From Evernote:

The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory

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The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory – Dalí

Referring to the widespread cuts enacted by the government, he said "if the French government tried to do what they’re doing here, there’d be riots in the streets." Not Brian Lenihan, but a fishmonger in a small market in southern Spain, on Friday. The echoes, albeit in another language and with different reference points, can sometimes be disorienting, spooky even.

Several people have complained to me that the Spanish are unable to get their act together and resist, but this has always been the way, because of envy and what’s often referred to as la picaresca, a readiness to take cynical advantage of someone else, often momentarily and spontaneously, in order to get your own way. 

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There are words for this sort of thing in Ireland too: mé feinism, cute hoorism, and they are just as readily deployed in every day conversation to provide boil-in-the-bag individualised explanations for complex social and historical problems, leaving to one side any sort of consideration of, for example, the character of the State. I must say,I get some grim amusement from hearing certain people in Ireland go on about how people’s belief in the Bible or homeopathy is backward nonsense, but if you say to them that the problem in Ireland is mé féinism, or declare, that we all lost the run of ourselves and need to tighten our belts, they’ll nod in agreement with vigour.

Perspectives such as these -which use a lens of genetic predisposition to put an end to history- are widespread, and they are debilitating. They sit neatly alongside dominant notions of individualised responsibility-guilt for one’s predicament, and natural superiority of some people -or even peoples?- over others. 

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And they block out inconvenient historical facts, such as, in the case of Spain, millions of people who engaged in anti-fascist resistance, including thousands of guerrillas who fought in the French Resistance at a time when so many of the supposedly rebellious French, including many erstwhile French leftists, supported the Vichy regime. But these facts are inconvenient because they undermine the standing of the regime in power. 

What is more convenient, from the point of view of mass media outlets, as placed in evidence yesterday and today, is to venerate the likes of Manuel Fraga instead, the former leader of Alianza Popular -the precursor of the ruling Partido Popular- and previously minister in the fascist Franco regime, who died yesterday and who has been given an uncritical and at times effusive send-off. 

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Manuel Fraga

This was a man who ordered communists be shot to death and who never swayed from his stance that Franco’s putsch had been an action undertaken by the finest people Spain had produced. Incidentally Fraga, who -as Juan Carlos Monedero noted yesterday on a radio phone in, would never have been allowed participate in German post-war democratic politics on account of his fascist past- received the Schumann medal from the European People’s Party, a short while before John Bruton did. Thus the past is sterilised, any light that knowledge of it might cast on present day class antagonisms and associated confusions is snuffed out, and the way is paved for further domination. If you have no idea where you have come from, you will have still less idea about where you can go.

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Made In Socialism


From Evernote:

Made In Socialism

This is from Carlos Martínez García, political scientist and associate member of ATTAC Spain on European attitudes, specifically Spanish attitudes, towards recent political developments in Latin America. The position on Venezuela described here is scarcely any more favourable in Ireland, where, with no left-leaning national newspaper of any prominence, the dominant picture of Hugo Chávez is that of a dictator: a recent Irish Times leader column described Chávez as a ‘regional pariah’, which will come as news to the many millions of Latin Americans who watched the inauguration of the CELAC, the new association of Latin American and Caribbean states. There is so much that the peoples of EU periphery states, including and perhaps especially Ireland, can learn from the recent history of the peoples of Latin America, in terms of popular mobilisations, debt repudiation, and animating visions for social transformation and democracy. 

Letters from Caracas

The cultural triumph of neoliberalism –in my opinion- when it can be seen most clearly, in Europe in general and in Spain in particular, is when people who call themselves progressives look askance in deep mistrust and even antipathy at the processes of revolution or change in Latin America.

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The amount of racism on display on too many occasions, goes along with the colonisation of minds on the part of the PRISA big brother in the Spanish State, connected of course with imperial terminals, but also through the ‘impartial’ TVE. The fact that one of the main owners of PRISA is a Mexican multimillionare –a multimillionaire of the tortured and downtrodden Mexico, the country of tremendously impoverished popular classes and narco-business- is very much a symptom.

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I am not a fool and I know that like any human project, the democratic, social and anti-neoliberal processes of Latin America have political problems and they are not perfect, and in some cases, they are manifestly improvable. But, by whom? By we who are right now incapable in Europe of articulating a successful resistance to neoliberalism and the great collective mugging in which we are all victims? The problems at any rate have to be solved by them, and that is what they are doing.

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Some people believe that Hugo Chávez –for example- is a dictator, when he has won a load of elections, a recall referendum, and when he lost another on constitutional reforms, he recognised it immediately. What lessons can be given from a continent that has recently blessed two coups d’etat by the dictatorship of the markets, in Greece and Italy, and has institutionalised them, without great difficulty. 

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Nor for that matter, from a kingdom –yes, that medieval form of state- from a kingdom, I insist, in which the Constitution has just been modified, without citizen consultation –surely in violation of the same Constitution- something that did happen with the Venezuelan reform for example. Here the dictatorship of the markets imposes rules that tie states down and parliamentary majorities are submissive towards bankers, the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg Club, or the IMF, or the European Central Bank, and we dare to judge what is democracy and what is not? 

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A little bit of humility, and values, and above all, a little more bravery to confront the dictatorship of the markets.

When one sees and perceives, smells, from these countries, Latin countries let us not forget – latino-indigenous –they are our people and not the anglo-saxons- the confrontation with imperialism and one observes its tragic footprint, one understands many things. Anglo-North American rule, after the Spanish empire, just as Eduardo Galeano very accurately describes in The Open Veins of Latin America, has left a trail of misery and large scale robbery of its raw materials, as well as selfish, miserable and racist criollo oligarchies that base their fortunes on making sure that these countries do not have their own productive systems but only extractive systems, and in this way, the United States and Europe unload their industrial products, which they import through their contacts in Miami or London.

The Latin American republics are generating a local industry that at times surprises on account of its power and quality, local financial institutions, with public and inter-regional banks, and there are trading actively with China, their main customer now, Russia, Iran, as well as African countries, other Asian states, and above all, among themselves. They have nationalised the greater share of their oil production, and it is for all this that the empire now threatens. But the difference is that here, the threat is palpable, you notice it. What does the Empire and America’s submissive Europe want: its markets, its oil and its money, yes, its money, since nearly all of them possess reserves. The processes of change have generated a greater welfare for those peoples that are reducing their poverty with great success, something that the oligarchies that support PRISA, the Partido Popular and the other European socio-liberals never did. Well then, these peoples that are starting to obtain purchasing power, which is being lost by the popular classes in Europe and the United States, are now the target of their old rulers.

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This is why they subsidise the oligarchies, their parties and their media. By the way PRISA has many economic interests in the entire continent. At the same time they carry out costly image campaigns against not only Cuba, Bolivia or Venezuela, but also Ecuador, Argentina, and even in a more moderate form against Uruguay, Brazil or Peru.

Lies are told about the supposed disputes and divisions among the different Latin American lefts, and the deep friendship that unites Hugo Chávez, Lula and Cristina Fernández, for example, is hushed up. Or, the profoundly Americanist and socialistic discourse of Pepe Múgica is hushed up, and that furthermore and thanks to him, of late the Bank of the South is going to relaunch its activities with greater strength.

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These democratic regimes are not perfect, however, for certain purists of the European gauche divine, who by the way are incapable of organising anything effective against the neoliberalism of the EU and their own governments. But the Empire is threatening them and not Belgium, for example. What is more, those of the ALBA, form part of the “axis of evil”. What unites all progressives of this continent are three things:

First of all their anti-imperialist position, which is more or less clear. They do not allow themselves to be intimidated and they all know about the European ruin and the crisis of the North.

Secondly they battle the economic crisis, these progressives, by promoting social policies that redistribute incomes and develop internal and regional markets. They see what Europe does and do the opposite.

Thirdly they have recovered the pride of being Latin Americans and in their countries, but above all their great common country (Patria) Latin America, which is why in an unprecedented event they are creating their own structures of the South in which the United States and Canada do not figure but in which –worthy of note- Cuba does, such as the CELAC, among others.

In Venezuela they are building decisively and at times fitfully, but what is being built is what for example European social democracy gave up on after the seventies. There are major investments in state healthcare and education. But moreover a potent productive agro-industrial and petro-chemical sector is being built, which the public sector previously lacked. As they say here, made in socialism.

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All this drives me to propose that in the Kingdom of Spain, where we are suffering these days the same thing that gave rise to the Bolivarian Revolution, we have to raise a civic, unified, democratic, social and profoundly anti-neoliberal movement that unites all the victims of the system and of the crisis. A constituent movement of all the peoples of the Spanish state, and to recover the social and republican patriotism that the Second Republic lit up. We have a patriotic tradition, with figures like Azaña, Pablo Iglesias, 

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Indalecio Prieto, Dolores Ibarruri,

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Joaquín Maurin, Joan Peiro, Angel Pestaña, Victoria Kent, as well as Lorca, Alberti or Antonio Machado among many others, from which to drink.

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#OccupyDisneyWorld


From Evernote:

#OccupyDisneyWorld

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My son is mad into the Disney Cars cartoons at the moment. If you aren’t familiar with the franchise, the films and the associated merchandise present a world in which there are no human beings, only cars, who live in recognisably human environments and places -towns, the United States, the United Kingdom and so on. The main scene for the first film is a town called Radiator Springs, a small town in the middle of the desert, economically run down and on account of the superhighways that were built to bypass the town, thus depriving it of its income from passing visitors travelling on Route 66. 

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The chief protagonist, Lightning McQueen, is an ultra-talented, impetuous and self-assured young race car. You never discover where he has come from; he seems to have been born with natural ability, and it is this natural ability, once allied to a respect for tradition and authority, that restores Radiator Springs to something approaching its former glory, since having won his big race, the now-famous Lightning McQueen decides to set up his base of operations there. 

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A parent who grew up despising everything Disney might feel inclined to discern a certain familiar moralising parable from the age of neoliberal globalisation here: the Fordist golden age that brought thriving communities has passed (in fact, given the absence of human labour, it never really existed), so what your locality must do to avoid terminal decay is keep the head down, smile hard and create the conditions for naturally talented affluent geniuses to recognise your local charm and engage your services.

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Watching the films, it is hard not to run up against some fairly basic questions: like do these cars go to the toilet? Do they use a medium of exchange? Where do they get their fuel from? Why is there an army vehicle saluting the US flag? Why do they speak with different accents? Was Radiator Springs built on land expropriated from indigenous Cars on the American continent? How come there are male and female cars, and how do they procreate? Who designs them? Who builds them?

I seem to recall that there’s some sort of organically-minded car in Radiator Springs who makes environmentally sound fuel. But there isn’t a great deal of concern for how the social reproduction activities of Cars might affect the environment. Presumably the point is to condition young boys (it is very much a film aimed at boys) to view cars as magical objects, endowed with personalities, continuing the long tradition of car advertising, but also as part of the natural world, to render a world without cars unthinkable, and by extension, a world unthinkable without all the things that sustain cars -the processes of extraction of raw materials, the building of roads, the drilling for oil, the use of arable land for the production of so-called biofuels instead of food crops, and so on. 

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If children are sufficiently convinced, as the scene set in Cars suggests, that there is no-one at risk of starvation from the production of bio-fuels, because there are no actual human beings to starve, then the shareholders and top executives in oil -sorry, energy- companies, defence contractors, private equity firms and car producers- whose interests are deeply intertwined and whose ownership structures overlap immensely, can gaze upon a bright future. Most of the children enthralled by these films, not so much.

Below is a translated piece on Disney from Periódico Diagonal by A.P. Cańedo, on that firm’s noxious influence in the construction of gender roles.

From Snow White to Rapunzel, the hidden story of princesses

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Some days ago, Disney Spain launched a press release in which it claimed that 90% of Spanish girls preferred dressing up as a princess to a doctor, an animal or a flamenco dancer. A very high figure..if it were true. In reality it was 90% of the daughters aged 4 to 7 years of 359 Spanish women. Bearing in mind that, according to 1999 figures, there are 10,165,237 women in Spain with sons or daughters, it does not seem a very representative sample.

Even so, we should not underestimate the influence of Disney: we are talking about an industry which engages millions every year, which has been present in the collective imaginary since 1937 (when they released their first film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) and which, with its princesses alone, generates around 4 billion euro. The company itself estimates that every girl watches the DVD of her favourite princess 40 times (it says nothing about boys)

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As Ismael Ramos Jiménez says in Deconstructing Disney: towards a co-educational storytelling (third prize in the Rosa Regás co-educational curriculum materials festival, edited by the Andalucian regional government)’ "Disney stories rely on a presumption that they are ideal for educating, as well as cultural legitimacy when it comes to teaching values and ideals".

However, as storytelling specialist Jack Zipes points out: "Disney stories reproduce gender stereotypes that have an adverse affect on children, despite what parents might think [..] They think they are essentially inoffensive and they are absolutely not.

Role construction

The association of gender roles in boys and girls begins at very early ages: at the age of three there is already a clear idea of what corresponds to each role", explains Eva Velasco, equality officer in the Hortaleza district (Madrid). A learning that happens through imitation of family, friends and televisual personalities, such as Disney heroines. And in the princess stories, in general, the female character, even if she is a protagonist, is subordinated to the masculine one: the salvation of the princess depends on him. That is: women are not capable of looking after themselves and need the help of a man. At least, any woman who is not a witch.

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Because Disney only offers two models of woman: the young princess, pretty and innocent who ends up meeting the man of her dreams to get married (Pocahontas is the only film in which there is not a wedding) and who with the exceptions of Bella and Tiana never pick up a book or have a job; or the witch, usually mature, with curves, independent, powerful and intelligent, but ugly and evil. It is not surprising that girls should want to be the princess.

The princess, at home.

And the princess has a clearly defined sphere: the private one. Even in the case of the latest heroines -Mulan, Rapunzel- where there has been a desire to give a more active and modern image of woman as an active and independent being, we see how in the end they pass from the care of the father to the care of the partner. In the case of Mulan, she even rejects jobs in the imperial court in order to go home to her father and, after this, get married. Bridging the gap, there is something similar at the end of Pirates of the Caribbean (also by Disney, by the way): rebellion is nothing more than a short period of liberty before moving on to be a faithful and loving wife (and mother). In the world of Disney it is men who dominate the public sphere, who wield power and who have a status of supremacy: kings, viziers, princes, knights, etc..

One of the most paradigmatic examples, as Ramos notes, is perhaps The Lion King, where the spectator is witness to the "struggle incarnate for power between the males on the one hand and the exclusion from this struggle and the passivity of the lionesses on the other, when everyone knows that it is the female felines who are the fiercest animals in the hunt and in protection of the pride; attributes that Disney denies them in order to relegate them to mere passive spectators in the passing of power between males".

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[R: also worth pointing out here is that the main enemy of the lions in the Lion King are the hyenas. The main hyena is female, and has an African American accent (played by Whoopi Goldberg]

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Disney thereby builds a bipolar world, in which beauty, seduction and the home belong to the domain of girls, and strength, violence and public life to that of boys. As Ramos concludes’ "after consulting many girls and boys about what their favourite cartoon films were we received a multitude of Disney titled. After also asking many girls and boys what their favourite Disney characters were we can conclude that the girls want to be princesses and the boys do not."

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Representing The Guilty


From Evernote:

Representing The Guilty

This is the last translation I am going to do from Público for a while, since a bit of variety might not be a bad idea. At the same time I think it’s worth taking a look at this article because it deals with the whole question of political representation, which, as I’ve been pointing out in earlier posts, scarcely appears at all in Irish public discourse, unless it is in terms of paring down the number of TDs in the Dáil or abolishing the Seanad, neither of which deal with the problem of representation as such, but are merely components of a reformist front so as to ensure that the political and economic system is shielded from proper scrutiny. 

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Another thing I have noticed in Ireland, which I might as well mention here, is that whereas talk of exiting the crisis is quite common in Spain, in Ireland it is practically non-existent. It is as though the decades of austerity, that form part of the plans of the Troika, the current Irish government and a large section of the country’s owning class, had already been accepted as an inescapable fate, as though there were a collective tacit admission that, indeed, there really is no alternative. This too, of course, forms part of their plans.

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As I have been suggesting, and am probably getting tiresome in saying now, this has to do with the deep attachment to representational politics that endures in Ireland, even when it is abundantly clear, to anyone who cares to look, that the austerity policies that no-one voted for anyway are failing (failing the people that is; whether they are failing members of IBEC is another matter), wreaking catastrophe on huge swathes of the population whilst Fine Gael enthusiastically push their policies through and the Labour Party seems to exist only as a sort of epistemicidal jelly, lubricating Fine Gael’s right-wing agenda and systematically destroying any coherent left-wing meanings of the word ‘labour’ in the public mind.

Meanwhile austerity, as yesterday’s Irish Times leader illustrates, is presented as a naturally occurring phenomenon that people must shoulder, and the burden of private debt is socialised in part via a moralising discipline that seeks to socialise guilt for the debt. We are all responsible. And yet no-one is guilty. Which means everyone is guilty. The complexities of a similar situation are teased out by the following piece. If the prospect of a second ‘bailout’ looms, we might recognise the discourse of immediacy identified by the author here, and, more important, we might find it easier to be wise to the manipulations that will emerge as the question of constitutional amendment and a referendum comes to to the fore.

Representation has failed

Toni Ramoneda

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In an interview given to French newspaper Le Monde on 13th December last, Nicolas Sarkozy assured that the Brussels accord adopted on the 9th for the drafting of a new intergovernmental European treaty creates the conditions for exiting the crisis, and that the ratification of said treaty would be carried out in a far more agile way than on previous occasions: "We want everything to ready for the summer of 2012", said the French president with the naturalness of someone who knows himself to be legitimated by the ruling discourse of immediacy. The type of discourse that also justified, some weeks previous, a violent editorial in the same French newspaper against the intention of George Papandreou to submit the European adjustment plan for Greece to referendum: "Can we imagine that a people would accept, unanimously, such a violent purge?" Le Monde wondered back then. A discourse relied upon also by that other supposedly progressive newspaper El País" to denounce that "the harm that this initiative can inflict on the European Union, on the future of Greece and on the image of its leaders can prove incalculable". In the same way, after the elections of 20-N in Spain, the idea has been adopted that the new Government must work hurriedly because of the markets’ urgency.

This discourse of immediacy is characterised by the abundance of words contradictory to the construction of a political project. Purge, crisis, urgency, recession, markets, debt, spending..All these words prevent making projects for a future beyond the decisions taken by those who declare them, whereas the particular nature of political discourse ought to be found, if we follow the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur, in its capacity to offer a way out of the insecurity of the present through a language (different from religious, nationalist or ideological language) in which the future can intervene as a utopian place. 

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This is why the discourses that crop up whenever politics proves incapable of shaking off the present of debt and the markets are precisely the religious, the identitarian and the ideological.

This dictatorship of immediacy, which we could very well call presentism, has been dedicated a book (Enemy army) by Spanish writer Alberto Olmos: "Solidarity has failed", claims the protagonist of the novel (a phrase that is already becoming something like a trending topic of Spanish critical culture) before pointing out: "You have created a world without guilty parties".Might this not be exactly what is happening in our contemporary social and political context in which no one is guilty of anything because we are all responsible for everything? For the water that we waste, for the petrol we consume, for the loans we take out, for the plastic that we do not recycle or the money we do not donate, and, in this way, if we cease our waste and consumption, if we recycle and show solidarity we can look ourselves in the mirror free of guilt. In effect, the failure of solidarity is its own success: quit helping and no-one will help on your behalf.

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The political act of solidarity has thus become a moral action and this is why Alberto Olmos, a deeply provocative writer, reproduces the Catholic schema of sin, guilt and penitence, and his narrator spends 279 pages of the novel confessing his own vices and own passions in a form of punishment. Because, when solidarity has failed as a political institution, what emerged once again is confession, sin, and, paradoxically, guilt: the discovery of individualism.

In this way, just as solidarity has become the discourse of individualist morality, urgency had done the same with political ethics. The only responsibility that we should really build us collectively, the election of our representatives, disappears in the wake of the markets (Greece or Italy) 

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or of incompetence (supposed or real) of the Government parties (Spain), and the current political alternating (whether from left to right or vice versa) is not democratic, but commercial, because it is not based on the political contest of representation, but in the subordination to the present of the value of the debt. And therefore, since we are all subjects to guilt (because that is the nature of a world without guilty parties) we accept without murmur (or with silent cries of outrage) the punishment of the markets and we spend our existence (like the protagonist of Olmos’s novel) sating impure desires that will do nothing but reinforce our guilt and justify our penitence: budgetary rigour.

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It is surprising that political leaders, instead of denouncing a situation that overturns their legitimacy as democratic representatives subordinate to the results of their leadership, should rely on it, for rhetorical purposes in order to obtain ephemeral electoral victories. Though perhaps one should recall that spirit of capitalism that Max Weber spoke about to explain the triumph of a system that articulated religious morality and commercial success thanks to the austerity ethic of Protestant religion. If this is the case, the Christian heritage that gave so much to talk about when the possibility of a constitution for Europe was discussed had become, in the end, the authentic European discourse and if this is so, capitalism understood as a political and moral appreciation of the present will have triumphed: representation has failed.

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Opportunity structures knock?


From Evernote:

Opportunity structures knock?

What follows further down, should you wish to skip my usual long preamble, is the translation of an article originally published in Diagonal on the 28th of December. It is by Raimundo Viejo Viñas, whose work I have translated before. It addresses head on the question of what role should be played by the 15-M movement in the aftermath of elections that delivered an absolute parliamentary majority to the Partido Popular.

I have spent the last few months in a country (Ireland) even more subordinated to the dictates of financial institutions, but one which has not had any major moment of refusal of representation, as seen in both Spain and Greece. In this vein, it has been interesting to watch how the campaign against the household tax has unfolded in the media: it has been largely treated as a scheme cooked up by left-wing (this point is always emphasised, as ever in absence of any reflection on the corollary) TDs. 

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There is an attempt afoot in media to mobilise general cynicism toward parliamentarians in order to dissipate popular resistance. Thus the Irish Times’s political correspondent refers to the campaign as the handiwork of ‘Joe Higgins and his allies’, and its leader column observes that ‘a number of left-wing and Independent Dáil TDs seem to regard it as a ticket for their re-election‘, thus casting the campaign as yet an irrelevant struggle for self-aggrandisement, and, more generally, insisting on the notion that politics is an activity confined to parliamentary chambers and cabinet meetings, sanctified by a moment’s public intervention every four years or so.

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It is important to keep this conception of politics -that it is what is performed by professional politicians- foremost in people’s minds. This is illustrated by a recent piece by Terry Prone, propaganda adviser to the main political parties, when commenting on Occupy encampments:

Nobody asks them how these pious aspirations mesh with the achievements or lack of achievements in their past- as would happen if the protesters had taken the real risk of putting themselves up for election.

We can see, then, that politics is presented as analogous to certain forms of priesthood and religious authority, rather than the activity of any citizen (in the broadest possible sense of the world): according to Irish politico-media orthodoxy, it is all very well to have a point of view, but unless it has been validated a priori by the appropriate bodies, it counts for very little indeed. And this orthodox framework has a profound effect on political activity in Ireland since it entrenches the notion that politics hinges on representation, otherwise c’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la politique.

The corrosive effects of this situation are, as might be expected, seldom probed in media outlets that perpetuate the situation in the first instance. So the Irish Times sees nothing wrong with calling its political correspondent column Inside Politics, thereby characterising politics as an exclusive sphere to which only authoritative sources have access, and in relation to which the public is very much on the Outside.

I could go on, and I shall for a moment: ever noticed how parliamentary representatives (who claim to be your representative even if you didn’t vote for them) operate ‘clinics’ and ‘surgeries’, as though a constituent would have to have something wrong with them, some sort of illness or affliction, to encroach on the domain of the Inside?

Anyway, I mention all this because I think that although Ireland requires a moment of refusal of representation along the lines of what has happened in other places, that moment is far off, and the domination enabled by what passes for representative democracy in Ireland will, unless met with strident challenge, only compound the implosion currently wracking Irish society. However, whilst inclined to optimism, I think the prospects for this, at the moment, are bleak still. You would think the payment of €1.2bn of public money to Anglo Irish Bank bondholders when all manner of vital public services are being cut would be a sufficiently obvious indication that democracy in Ireland is in crisis, but perhaps to do so underestimates the power of Irish media in fostering cynicism, disengagement and, ultimately, desperation and impotence.

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It is striking to me, then, that Raimundo Viejo, in the article below, treats the moment of refusing representation as largely passed for the 15-M movement in the Spanish State: for him, there is no need to dwell on the breakdown of representative democracy any longer, what must be done now is to build institutions that serve the movement in the establishment of a ‘political regime of the commons’.

20N-1. The value of opportunities

When explaining cycles of mobilisations, social sciences resort -among other things- to a focus that they call the political opportunity structure. According to its premises, the cycles refer to a rupture in the internal equilibria of political regimes -"opportunities"-. If a regime is unitary in its positions, it is said, the social body upon which it articulates itself will not be prone to mobilisation.

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This is an old lesson Machiavelli in his day warned Lorenzo de Medici about: the social body -for the Florentine, the people- is irreducible to the leadership; if the leader aspires to govern he must always consider the perspective imposed on him from below, from that 99% always prone to insurgency. The underlying premise is that every power regime over a social body is a regime of domination: when the unit as a whole is ineffective -as with during the attempts at emptying the squares- the regime enters crisis and mobilisation becomes possible.

We should not be surprised then, that after 15M the leadership should bring forward elections that have not only favoured a change of Government, but have also delivered it to the new executive in the best conditions for governability: absolute majority. If we add to this the sinking of the PSOE and, therefore, its internal weakness and subsequent bowing to the consensuses of State, we can already imagine the rest.

But what is the real value of the PSOE/PP alternating? At another juncture the PP’s absolute majority would have been a total success. However, there is little or no reminder in the 20N of its most obvious precedent: the socialist victory of 1982. No atmosphere of collective euphoria, nor promises from a newly installed regime, nor the democratic conspiracy against the feared powers that be..

What is it then that has changed? Undoubtedly, the state of opinion, the democratic standing of the regime’s institutions and a load more variables have changed. But what has changed above all, is something much more decisive for the definition of opportunities: the mutation of leadership due to the change in the structure of sovereignty.

The former sovereign power -the national State- was sufficient to manage a country’s economy. At its centre the public policies were decided that would allow, in the frame of an international context governed by relations between States, the organisation of society as a whole. In recent decades this has changed irreversibly.

The success of the implementation of neoliberalism has brought the national State to its limit, subtracting its decision-making power, its sovereignty in the modern sense of the word. Today we find ourselves with the effects of the double displacement enacted, on the one hand, outward, from the State to the market, and, on the other, upward, from the State to superstate institutions.

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The European Union, within the framework of federalising agreements between States, was some years ago unable to get beyond the impact of its neoliberalism via a constituent process -the referendum on the Treaty to establish a Constitution for Europe- and the eurocratic dinosaur imploded. The neoliberal utopia of reduction of government to the minimum, the privatisation of public assets and the execution of exclusive command by the markets thereby takes another step forward by the hand of the Governments of the European right.

The implications of all these changed are of the greatest importance for the configuration of opportunity and the future of the movement. Leadership is no longer configured solely or principally at state level, and, at times, it does not even have the capacity to choose its own governing elites, -thus, Greece and Italy-. But what is more, it is not solely configured in the superstatal institutional arenas of global governance.

Politics of antagonism

Here the scenario had also changed with respect to the alter-globalisation wave. Today it is the automatisms of financial capitalism, its ratings agencies, its technocracy, where the frame for decision making is prefigured, where leadership is organised and joined, in obedience, by the national State. Here is where, in fact, the opportunity structure is shaped and where, as such, influence must be exerted in order for the movement to advance.

Having arrived at this point, politics can abandon the terrain of the current regime and move to another arena: that of constituent power, i.e. that of antagonism between a leadership at the service of the markets and the social body that produces wealth. In the calculations of the former, the future is entrusted to the absence of a parliamentary opposition able to question its power. The leadership assumes that the constitutional framework, renovated for the purpose, will be enough to manage the crisis in line with the well-known shock doctrine. From this perspective, autonomy is no longer the option of a radical sector and becomes an imperative for those who have occupied squares since 15-M. Whoever until now could live in the belief -institutionally induced- that it was possible to practise a different politics within the regime, will end up either awaking in the desert of the real of facile leftism, or even resigning oneself to sad passions and returning to the mantra that demonstrating achieves nothing.


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Affordable luxury

For whoever has the material means to cope in the crisis, the latter can even be an affordable luxury. The parliamentary and union lefts entrust their strategies to this. The first because in its profound autism has not understood the 15M and it confuses a few seats in the parliament as an endorsement of its work. The second because it only counts on mobilising the street under its hegemony in the medium term while waiting for the return to power of a sympathetic government. Both organise their strategies amid the impotence of their historic defeat, trusting in what remains of the welfarist shipwreck.

For whoever does not possess these means, however, a diametrically different double horizon unfolds: on one hand, the risk of internalising the crisis in a self-destructive fashion – depression, suicides, etc-; on the other, throwing oneself into the movement in search of cooperation, solidarity, symbiosis. Paraphrasing the apothem of the Italian ’77: "The expressive phase has ended, we have won". 

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From here the movement must formulate itself, beyond the destituent moment – "they don’t represent us" – into the establishment of a political regime of the commons. To this end it is not only necessary to get deep into the production of institutions of the movement -collectives, counter-information media, cooperatives, etc.- but equally to move forward in its articulation within a power regime that is alternative to the existing one. Any other thing will bring us to more of the same, and close the opportunity structure opened by the 15M.

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